Sunday, August 27, 2017

The traveling engineer

What would students consider to be the world's top engineering destinations? This could be an interesting question to ask at the beginning of the academic winter semester, when we often ask colleagues and students what they did over the summer holidays. Where would students choose to travel to see engineering wonders if they could go anywhere - and why the particular choice? Would it depend on which area of engineering they are specializing in? Where have they already been? After the students brainstorm answers, which destinations would they choose as the top five?

This is the theme of the article, Top 5 Engineering Destinations to See Before You Die, on the website Interesting Engineering:


As the introduction to the article states, "Whether they're world wonders or feats of modern engineering, all of these places possess certain awe-inspiring qualities sure to make your trip worth it."

These are the five destinations chosen in the article (all images are from the Interesting Engineering article):

 The Palm Islands, UAE
These islands are described as an "incredible feat of engineering," but they also have negative effects on the environment. "The area surrounding the islands has seen increased coastal erosion and odd wave patterns. Sediment from the construction ultimately suffocated and injured many of the marine life around the area and reduced the sunlight allowed through the water." Students can research what effect this has had on the environment, compared with the benefits of residential development. In addition, the article mentions that since these islands are near Dubai, engineers should also see Burj Kalifa (but without giving specific information).

Taj Mahal, India
I thought it was curious that the Taj Mahal was on this list, since I think of it as more of an architectural wonder and a highlight of Muslim art; but perhaps the engineering focus is on how it was constructed. "Construction of the giant stone structure required earthen ramps over a mile long leading up to the tomb in order to lift the large stones into place." This information could be compared to other structures that were constructed before the use of modern machinery.

The Great Wall of China, China
This would probably be on many students' list. In the article, it is referred to as "one of the most prolific engineering feats of all time." Students could research how it was built, noticing that it was constructed in different sections over a period of about 1000 years. So there were many different types of construction methods used.

The Panama Canal, Panama
This canal has quite a dramatic history. "At the time and even up to modern standards, the canal was one of the most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken." Students can research what, specifically, these difficulties were - and how they were overcome. The article claims that "One of the most surprising facts about this engineering marvel is just how long it takes to traverse it." Looking at a map of Panama, students could speculate how long it takes a ship to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean (6-8 hours). What other "surprising facts" would they find in their research?

The Hoover Dam, USA
Students might not be as aware of this construction as they are of the other destinations on this list. As the article claimes, "While not presently anything to marvel over, the history surrounding the construction and documentation of the engineering places it at great importance to the history of engineering." This is rather tantalizing! Since there is no further explanation, students can find out themselves what makes this dam so important. This is also another example of an engineering feat that has had an impact on engineering.

The description of each destination is rather short, but focuses on the reason it is on the list. Students could write short descriptions in similar style for other destinations they might have chosen. Special focus could be put on the top engineering destinations in students' own countries. And, of course, if students (or teachers) have visited any of these destinations, their further impressions could be added to the discussion.

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